“We can't expect one woman to champion the plight of millions of women on the African continent,” says the director of Centre for Politics and Research.
“However, her appointment is not insignificant. She will sit in an elevated chair in the Secretariat and direct the proceedings of very powerful men. I suppose that is a measure of progress,” Mashele says.
“We mustn’t underestimate the influence of people in elite circles on the millions in the far-flung villages of Africa. The appointment could start to change perceptions,” Mashele adds.
Dlamini-Zuma (63) emerged the victor after four rounds of voting and beat incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon by receiving 37 of the 51 votes in Ethiopia on 15 July. Her election brings to an end a six-month long impasse during which South Africa and other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries ran a nasty campaign that divided the continent into Anglophone and Francophone factions. Dlamini-Zuma’s win is seen as SADC's attempt to rustle the continent from under France’s influence.
Mashele says Dlamini-Zuma’s first order of business should be to heal the wounds sustained during the election. “There were a lot of casualties. She must appeal to the bloc that supported Ping and never project herself as a victor. The AU is an organisation built on the principle of consensus and if Dlamini-Zuma is to achieve anything, she must win over the confidence of heads of state.
“That role is highly political. Without support she will be paralysed. Opposition from one head of state can derail proceedings,” Mashele warns.
But equally important is the revitalisation of the moribund organisation. “Nothing was done by the previous leadership,” Mashele says, “This must be done almost concurrently with mending the bridges. Dlamini-Zuma must develop and get approval for beefing up the technical capability of the commission to intervene in matters of governance and peacekeeping in the region.”
Political analyst Steven Friedman earlier told DestinyConnect that he did not understand the raucous celebration following Dlamini-Zuma’s appointment.
“What are we cheering for? Is this a football match? As far as I can tell, there is no clear mandate from South Africa or SADC on what is it that she is supposed to do,” he said.
But Mashele disagrees saying the agenda of the AU was well articulated by former President Thabo Mbeki’s regime, of which Dlamini-Zuma was foreign minister. The broad fundamentals are laid out in New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
“She doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. She just has to ensure that peace and security on the continent ensue and that the economies develop,” he says.
An experienced diplomat, Dlamini-Zuma is a veteran of the fight against apartheid. A doctor by training, she served as minister of health in former President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet and is presently South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs.
Dlamini-Zuma is ex-wife to President Jacob Zuma.